Anyone who’s seen my closet knows I have way too many clothes. However, when it comes to packing for my trips, I have an uncanny ability to fit my life in a backpack that meets every budget airline’s carry on size requirements. I love packing light because it makes traveling between cities so much easier, and it’s easier on my back, too! Here are my top 10 tips for packing light.
1. Get the right bag
Before we even start packing, the first step to packing light is to have the right bag. You want a bag that is compact and easily accessible. I have the Minaal 1.0 (a slightly older version of the 2.0 bag on the market right now), and it meets the requirements for a carry on bag for even the smallest, cheapest airlines, such as Ryanair or Spirit, which fly tiny planes with very little storage and that typically try to charge its customers extra for checked bags.
The Minaal bag also allows me to reach all my items easily, without having to take out all the contents of my bag in order to find the one shirt I’m looking for. The bag unzips all the way down to the bottom, so you can open it up like a suitcase. This allows me to see all the contents of my bag and easily take out what I need and zip it back up without creating a mess and having to re-pack everything. I use the interior zippered pockets for smaller garments, and I pack the rest into my daypack or packing cubes, which I will discuss more below.
2. Bring versatile, low-maintenance clothing
For most people, the contents of your bag will consist mainly of clothes. Thus, finding a way to pack as little clothes as possible is a key component to packing light. Even if you are embarking on a one month journey, there is no reason to ever pack for more than 7 days, as you can easily wash your clothes by hand at almost any accommodation you may choose to stay at, even if there are no washers/dryers available. I typically try to pack for 4 days on multi-week trips, and I have never had trouble finding somewhere to wash my clothes or run out of clothes before my trip concluded.
When deciding which clothes to pack, I typically pack only neutral colors (black, white, grey) and make sure that all my tops match all my bottoms. This way, rather than packing a bunch of outfits, I know that I’ve got multiple outfits I could wear with each item of clothing since I could wear any of my tops with any of my bottoms and it would look like a matching outfit. I will typically bring one outfit that’s a little dressier, so I know I have something to wear in case I find myself in a more formal environment. For my day-to-day clothes, my favorites are some neutral tees from Everlane and my DSTLD jeans. Here are a few of my staple pieces for packing light:
- Everlane Box Cut Tee – this is the perfect length for us shorter girls (I’m 5’2″) and is a soft cotton fabric.
- Everlane Drop Shoulder Tee – a very classic tee, also very soft, and the slight slit design on the sides is a nice added touch.
- Everlane Cotton Tank – this is your classic tank, although a bit longer than I’d like (again, I am on the shorter side), so I typically wear it tied up or tucked in.
- Everlane Ryan Long Sleeve – I typically stow this away in my bag and put it on over whatever I’m wearing if it gets a bit chilly. It’s very thin, so it folds up very small and you can stuff it right into your daypack.
- Everlane Street Fleece Pant – this feels like a sweatpant but can be dressed up to look much more put together. It is a bit thicker, though, so I’d recommend it only for cooler temperatures.
- DSTLD High-Waisted Skinny Jean – these fit like $300 jeans but with a lot more stretch, and they are only $75! I have the black ones, which easily pair with just about anything.
- DSTLD High-Waisted Shorts – these are the same fabric as the skinny jeans, and they’re a steal at only $35! These are pretty short, though, so I would consider bringing a longer pair depending on where you are traveling.
- American Apparel High-Waist Jean Cutoff Short – I am all about the high-waisted bottoms + cropped top look, so as an alternative to the DSTLD shorts, I will sometimes pack a pair of these American Apparel shorts.
- Steve Madden Troopas – these are the most comfortable boots I have ever owned, and they are so versatile. I have worn them out to the bars at night as well as on hikes during the day, and they go with everything.
- Vans Classic Slip On Skate Shoe – these are the most comfortable shoes and match everything. The only downside is the white shoes get dirty easily, but between these and my Troopas, I really can’t foresee any situation where I’d need any other shoes.
As for fabric, I personally love cotton, but cotton is not a good space-saving fabric, nor is it a quick-drying fabric. Most would agree that the most versatile and low-maintenance fabric to travel with is merino wool. A few benefits of merino wool are that it is breathable, keeps you cool in the heat and warm in the cold, does not wrinkle easily, is odor- and stain-resistant, and is very soft and comfortable to wear. I am not recommending that you go out and buy an entirely new merino wool wardrobe (I sure haven’t yet), but at a minimum, I would recommend getting some merino wool socks, as you will be able to get pretty far with just a couple of pairs. SmartWool and Icebreaker are two popular brands for merino wool products.
3. And a micro-fiber towel
Right now you’re probably thinking I’m going to talk about the best towel to use for showering. That’s true – but a micro-fiber towel is good for so much more than just that. Because it is quick drying, you can also use it for folding around wet or damp clothes that you may have just washed and not had time to let dry or just brought back from the beach. Not only will the micro-fiber towel prevent the rest of your bag from getting wet from your wet clothes, it will actually help your clothes to dry faster. Several times I have packed a damp shirt in my micro-fiber towel, traveled to a new city, and when I opened my bag again, my shirt was dry.
Needless to say, this towel is great for showering as well. It is very thin and folds up so that it barely takes up any space, and it of course dries very quickly after your shower. I have had the Shandali Micro-fiber Towel towel for over two years and have brought it with me on multiple trips, and I have had no complaints.
4. Roll your clothes
This is a classic trick that most people probably already know about. Rolling your clothes instead of folding them saves space, so if you’re finding yourself having a hard time fitting all your clothes in your bag, try rolling them instead. Rolling your clothes also helps reduce wrinkles, so that’s an added bonus.
5. Wear your layers
If you need to bring thicker layers or coats, try to wear as many of those thicker layers as you’re able to, since those take up more space in your bag. You can always take off those layers and store them in the overhead compartment as soon as you get on the plane if you do not want to wear bulky layers during your flight.
6. Pack a daypack
As an alternative to using packing cubes, I oftentimes will pack some clothes inside a daypack, which I will then pack inside my Minaal backpack. My favorite daypack is the Tortuga Packable Daypack because it’s lightweight, has organization compartments, and easy to roll up and stow away in case I don’t want to use it as a packing cube inside my backpack.
UPDATE: One of my biggest complaints about the Tortuga Packable Daypack is that it wasn’t very waterproof. I brought it on a hike in Norway last summer when it was raining, and I ended up turning back mid-hike because I was afraid my camera would suffer water damage from sitting in my backpack. I recently discovered the NeatPack Foldable Backpack, which has all the features of the Tortuga Packable Daypack but does a much better job of repelling water. It also has a secret zipper pocket at the bottom of the backpack, where you can hide valuables such as cash, passport, etc., or simply use to store your dirty laundry or sandals for the beach. You can buy it on Amazon and use code MVM10OFF for a 10% discount.
If you do want to use packing cubes, however, a couple of solid ones for backpackers are the Eagle Creek Pack It Specter Cube and the Sea to Summit Travelling Light Garment Mesh Bag, both of which you can find on Amazon.
7. Consolidate camera components
If you are like me, and a lot of other travel bloggers, you want to bring a quality camera with you on your trips but also contemplate whether the bulkiness of the camera is worth dealing with for the high quality photos. The answer for me was always yes, but not at the expense of a much reduced wardrobe and other necessities. For a while, I used a bulky camera bag for my DSLR camera and a few lenses, which took up almost half of my backpack. However, I recently discovered these neoprene sleeves, which keep my camera and lenses protected but greatly reduces the bulk. Even better, you can get a set of sleeves for your camera and three lenses for less than $20 USD.
8. Carabiner clips
One of the most useful additions to my backpack are my black carabiner clips, which I use to hold my water bottle, jackets, or any extra bulky item that the carabiner can clip on to. I have the Bluecell carabiner clips, which unfortunately have been discontinued, but you can find similar ones here. I bought a pack of five carabiner clips about five years ago, and I haven’t had a single one break yet. I always clip a couple onto my backpack before I leave, since I never know when I’ll need one.
9. Ditch the liquids
Typically when I travel for two weeks or less, I will bring my own toiletries, including all my liquids, in these handy silicone containers. These are far superior to the plastic bottles because it is much easier to squeeze out the last of the liquids in these silicone bottles than it is in the plastic bottles. An additional bonus to these bottles is that the bottles come with pre-printed labels on the inside of the bottle, so all you have to do is twist the bottle to the correct label, and voila – your bottle is properly labeled for its contents.
If I travel for longer than two weeks, however, I typically will not bring any liquids, as most places you travel to will have your basic toiletries, such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and toothpaste, and I would not be able to fit one-month’s worth of liquids into my liquids bag. Thus, for longer trips, I would recommend ditching the liquids completely.
10. Go au naturel
This tip is mostly for the ladies, but I’ve noticed that since I started traveling, I’ve greatly reduced, if not eliminated, my makeup routine. It really is a hassle when you’re staying in dorm-style hostels to apply loads of makeup every morning, so I cut my makeup routine and noticed that not only am I able to get ready in the mornings in a fraction of the time it used to take, but that I was actually a lot more relaxed throughout the day as well, as I didn’t feel the need to constantly check to see if my makeup was still on properly or if it had been smudged all over my face from the rain. It also saves a lot of space in my toiletries bag. I use the Sea to Summit Travelling Light Hanging Toiletry Bag, which is on the small size for toiletry bags, but fits everything I need. My favorite part about this toiletry bag is that it has a clip hidden on the inside of the bag that allows you to hang the bag on the back of a door or anywhere with a hook, making the contents of your bag easily accessible to you while you get ready.
Hope our tips for packing light were helpful to you! Do you have any other packing tips? Please let us know in the comments below!
Author: Diana Chen
Full time attorney with serious wanderlust. I blog about traveling the world with a full time job, confronting your travel addiction, and pursuing your passions without going broke. Currently planning for a month-long trip to Southeast Asia.
Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. That means we receive a commission when you click and buy through our links. You don't have to use our links, but we're very grateful when you do.